The Scab of Grief

Six years ago today, I gave birth to my fourth son.  It was one of the worst days of my life.

Today is my baby boy’s sixth birthday.  As he was stillborn, today is also the sixth anniversary of his death.

In the immediate aftermath of his loss, I wondered how I could ever face moving forward, aching with emptiness as I was.  But life does go on.  As much as I felt an overwhelming compulsion to never leave home ever again, the weight of grief sitting so heavily on me, I had three other children to take care of.  I had to pick up and get on with it.  I had to keep going for them.  My living children were the life that goes on.  Life is to be lived for the living and that is what we do.  Our lost baby is very much a part of our family: we can talk about him openly with our living children – including the youngest who was born eight months later – and as a family we have marked his birthday in order to commemorate the part he played in our lives.  Our tradition is to do something fun as a family and then do something special, something quiet and reflective, in the evening as we remember him.  I believe that with each child you have, you don’t divide the love you have but instead that love multiplies.  And so I tell myself that the love I would have given to my lost baby son, I can bestow as extra love upon my four living sons.  That’s what we do.  That is how we cope.

Exactly a year ago, in an emotionally wretched coincidence of dates, we left our home in Scotland for the last time.  Of course, we were not just leaving behind our home, our community, our friends and colleagues, but we were also preparing to leave the country.  We were moving our lives forward.  Life was going on, as it must, but all the places that had significance in the brief existence of our lost son were also being left behind.  Life goes on.  And sometimes that is hard.

So we come to this year and, yet again, life is moving on.  We have moved into our new house, our permanent house, a place that will become our family home.  A home where the six of us will have new experiences, ups and downs, forging new memories.  The new house won’t be entwined with our precious memories of our baby’s brief existence as our unborn son.  Because life moves forward.  Because life moves on.  And sometimes that is hard.

Six years on, I can get through most days without his memory being anything other than a tiny, dull ache at the back of my mind, a scrap of pain as tiny as he was, as delicate as he was, as fragile as he was.  Other days, the days leading up to and on his birthday or other significant dates, the emotion comes flooding back and I am transported back to the raw anguish of the day he was born.

The saying goes that time heals but that’s not quite true.  Time just makes it easier to deal with because you develop coping strategies as time goes on and the raw pain dulls to an ache that some days you might not even notice.  Just as with the deaths of my older brothers, 11 and almost 30 years ago, so too with each passing year the grief of our baby’s stillbirth is that little bit easier to bear.  Time, however, does not heal.  Time has taught us to cope.  Grief, in my experience at least, is like a wound that gradually closes and scabs over but the scar is always there nevertheless.  Ever so often – such as on a significant date or when something unexpectedly jolts the memory – the raw, searing anguish comes flooding back and it is as if that scab has been torn right off.  Gone are the coping strategies, gone is the focus on other things, and beneath that is the grief that is always present, as vulnerable as the new skin beneath the scab.

And so I  remember – on a day such as today – that no matter where we now live in the world, no matter how hectic our lives have become, no matter in what ways our lives move forward, because life is for the living, in some significant, special way, our baby son is always with us, whether it is in the form of a cherished memory on the many gentler days or whether it is the pain that returns on the difficult days like today.

Life moves on.  Today that is hard.

Thank you for reading.

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267 thoughts on “The Scab of Grief

  1. You have inspired me. I lost my son on June 2. He was 20 yrs old and it was from a terrible accident. Thus making it impossibly unexpected. My grief is new and raw, but I am starting to have more days that I enjoy being back amongst the living. You have validated that it is ok for me to feel this way. Eveything I have read tells only of Mother’s who never get any better. My son would not have wanted me stopping my life to grieve him forever. I know there are many painful days ahead of me. But thanks to you I now know it is okay to enjoy the good ones. I now see that I don’t have to stay sad to miss my son. I will always miss my son no matter what emotion it is attached to.

    • I am so very sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine what you are going through right now. One of my brothers was killed in an accident at 21. The shock, the suddenness of his absence, was awful. But I was his sister and not his parent and I would not wish to pretend that I truly know how my parents processed either that loss or that of my oldest brother. Besides which, every individual grieves differently and has their own journey to go on.

      Your loss is still very recent and you must still be working through some terribly raw, searingly raw, thoughts and feelings. It’s really great, therefore, that you are starting to find your way forward. I remember the first time I properly heartily laughed after our baby died and judging myself harshly for it but laughter and joy are part of life and should not be denied just because grief and sorrow and pain are also part of our lives.

      Thank you for your heartfelt comment and for confiding your experience. I wish you gentle days ahead.

    • So sorry for the loss of your son. I lost my 21 year old daughter just four days later. Grief comes in waves and cannot ever be scheduled. Be kind to yourself and feel things that bring you joy as well. The ache will be there always but it doesn’t have to define every moment. Hugs to you.

    • I’m very sorry for your loss. Thank you for that suggestion. We had traditions back home in Scotland that had meaning to us so we definitely need to establish some sort of tradition here in America. I love the idea of planting a tree but worry about it failing to thrive (I’m not a very competent gardener) and the emotional consequences of that. But it’s definitely something we are mulling over.

  2. I, too, have lost a child. She wasn’t stillborn, but lived for 11 weeks before we made the decision to take her off life support. The second anniversary of her death was June 29th. You communicated your grief, and the ‘must go on’ very well. I hated the looks I got when I went back to work a week after she died. People were doing the whole “Oh, I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t be back at work this soon.” and I just stared at them and said “Well, electricity, heat, food, and phone don’t wait for me to get over it!”

    • Thank you for your heartfelt comment. I am so sorry for your loss. What a difficult decision you had to make. I’m sorry you had colleagues who spoke so unthinkingly. I too had to deal with people saying and doing insensitive things towards me. It certainly doesn’t make taking those first steps any easier.

    • Thank you for your lovely comment. I’m so sorry that you have also experienced such a loss. Please don’t write “just” a father. So often with baby loss, the dads get forgotten about. They are expected to be stoic and strong and keep things together and, as such, people overlook the anguish of the father. I cannot tell you how many times people would ask my husband “How is Laura coping?” without also asking him the same question. I’m a mother so I can only write from that perspective but my husband grieved just as much as I did and we continue to feel the loss keenly together. Thank you again for commenting and for sharing your experience.

  3. Was just scrolling through freshly pressed and spotted this post on there from 12days ago. Feels weird saying “congrats” for achieving this given the subject matter but I wanted to reinforce my previously expressed feelings on how beautifully you write in memory of your son (and your other memoirs too). Belated hugs x

    • Thank you very much for your support. It’s weird that the post was picked up so long after being written and the timing means that I’m in that difficult period of building up to the anniversary again. The build up is somehow always worse than the day itself. The messages of support and understanding are probably helpful at this time but, on the other hand, it adds to the emotional challenge too. Still I’m glad to be doing my small part to raise awareness of this type of bereavement. Thanks again for your ongoing support and encouragement.

  4. I am so sorry for your lost. This is both sincere and touching, and I sort of teared. Yes, time does not heal wounds and we do come up with coping strategies at the the end of the day. Then again, you will still be reminded of your boy, just like how me and my granddaddy, on the fateful day. Im happy that you coped with the pain, and emerged stronger and a better person who appreciates life more to those around you, especially towards your family. :)) Well wishes to you. And always stay strong 🙂

  5. Laura, I know this post is from awhile ago but I wanted to stop by and tell you that you’re stronger than you think. I lost my son last year when he was 11 weeks old. Every day that passes is everyday you survive the biggest loss of your life. Be kind to yourself, you never know who you’re inspiring 🙂

    • I am so very sorry for your loss, Eryn. I cannot begin to imagine what you must have gone through. Thank you for your kind words about my blog post. The fact that it can touch people like you who are at an earlier stage in your journey through grief makes me so glad I hit publish. Indeed, my baby’s anniversary is on Friday and I’m going to try and write on this subject again. It feels like maybe that’s the small part I can contribute in giving back to all those who supported me through those earliest, bleakest days. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

      • Thank you for that. I don’t write about our lost son often but I think about him almost everyday. It’s just not so painful to think of him in passing any more as it was in the early years. There are just certain dates and triggers that really make the grief raw again.

  6. Pingback: Parenting while Grieving | A Pict in PA

  7. Thank you Laura for talking about grief. Our society is not comfortable with nor does it honor the process. Time does not change it, it changes us and hopefully for the better so that we can live and love more purposefully. Grateful for all that I have and all whom I love.

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  9. Aww, Laura, the pain of loosing someone never goes away. Whether we had them for an instant or for a life time, death hurts. My mother was only 64 when she lost her battle with Cancer back in 1990. We always thought my dad, who was 15 years older would go first. Unfortunately, he died in 2010, but he lived to be 99! Never the less, in both instances death left a big hollow space in my heart. I yearn for the time when I will see them again, hold them in my arms and smell that garlic on my mom’s hands from cooking. What has kept me going is the hope of the resurrection. The day when all those in the memorial tombs will come out. This has brought great comfort to me and so I’m sharing this information in hopes that it will also help you to see the death of your child as a temporary thing, and that it will give you hope for the future.

    http://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/what-is-the-resurrection/#?insight%5Bsearch_id%5D=f1e80093-1884-402a-ba69-e27f65644bb5&insight%5Bsearch_result_index%5D=1

    For more information go to JW.org to get your questions answered.

    Sending my love,
    Carmen L

    • I am sorry for the loss of your parents, Carmen. Death and grief are keenly felt no matter how old the loved one is. I am glad your faith brings you solace. I do not share your faith but I thank you for the kind thought and for sharing your experience of loss in this comment.

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